Marriage Musings: “Rob, help, we don’t connect except by text!”

Posted December 17th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot
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By Robert Fontana

textingYou know your marriage is in trouble if the primary way that you and your spouse speak to one another is texting.  That probably means that you get the business of marriage and family done – getting the kids to school, buying groceries – but what does it say about your relationship?  Perhaps you’re busy out of your mind with the tasks of day-to-day life, with no “quality time” for your spouse. Or, perhaps, the relationship is not safe for anything deeper like, “How was your day?”

I have a theory that most marriages will go the distance if couples will give their relationship regular attention.  Thus, my motto is, “Work on your marriage and your marriage will work.”  When a couple comes to see me for counseling, I first ask them to tell me how they met.  I want to hear about what attracted each to the other and why each said “yes” to marriage.  I especially want to hear stories of their having fun together and being in love.

I then ask them about issues that came up that began to separate them and how they reacted to one another in these situations.  From our first meeting, I am trying to understanding the negative rut they have dug for themselves and which they tend to repeat even though the issues may change.  Gottman writes that most couples only have about 2 – 3 arguments over their lifetime, arguments based not on what is right or wrong, but on how the spouses are simply different people.  These arguments may look different as circumstances change, but they are basically the same 2 – 3 arguments.  I assure couples that because they created this rut or negative pattern, they can also create something new, something that is more life-giving and affirming.  In fact, I try to get them to see that the real culprit in the marriage is not the other spouse, but the negative pattern that together they have created.

couple-in-counseling-unhappyAt the same time that I am trying to identify the negative patterns in the relationship, I am also assessing for two primary aspects of the relationship:  “Do spouses feel safe together?” and “Do they still like each other?”  If I get any hint from the way they interact with each other that one or the other does not feel safe or does not like his/her partner, I set up an individual session with each spouse to get more information.  If safety is an issue, if one or both partners are afraid of being physically and/or too deeply emotionally hurt in the sessions, I may not see them for couple counseling because it simply will not work.  I refer each of them to individual therapy to work on the issues that contribute to an unsafe relationship.

Liking each other is also important though not a deal-breaker for couple counseling.  If spouses convey to me that they do not like each other, I learn more about the depth of this dislike in an individual session.  Gottman writes that “contempt” is one of the four killers of marriage.  When one or both spouses tell me that he or she can hardly look at the other without being disgusted, then, again, I may recommend that each go to individual counseling to help each get to a place where they have some positive feelings for one another.  There has to be some positive motivation to work on the marriage and not just while they are in my office.

I expect couples who are seeing me to work on their marriage at home.  For all couples who agree to work with me, I ask that they spend some amount of uninterrupted time with each other – which means no computers and cell phones – every day.  The goal is to have them spend one hour of uninterrupted time with each other every day, but I adjust this homework according to how much “togetherness” a couple says they can handle.

black coupleThe goal of this time together is to rebuild friendship.  Before they leave my office, I have couples brainstorm what this time might look like.  They usually say, “play cards or a board game, talk about each other’s day and the children, give back rubs or hand massages, cook together, read a book out loud to one another, pray together, go for a walk or bike ride, or, of course, have a romantic moment.

One couple I worked with found that simply taking this one hour a day together moved their marriage out of its rut.  They were simply not spending the time together that each of them wanted.  Another couple that I worked with could only commit themselves to spending 5 – 10 minutes of being alone together each day.  They agreed to give each other a hand massage and talk about their day.  They were going to try to slowly work up to an hour a day.

If a couple tells me that they cannot make this commitment to spend uninterrupted time together on a regular basis, then I will not see them for couples counseling.  If I’m going to invest my time in working with them, I want them investing their time, outside our office visit, on their marriage.  I do tell them that this is not a time for fighting and arguing.  If they find themselves getting frustrated with one another and moving towards a collision, I counsel them to call “time-out” and save the argument for when I am with them.

Is your marriage in a rut?  Do you find that your best method for communicating is texting?  STOP!  Perhaps you should go see a marriage counselor, or perhaps the only thing you need is to make time every day to have uninterrupted focus on each other.  You give your computer and your cell phone uninterrupted time; you certainly can do the same for your spouse!


If you live in the greater Seattle area and want to meet for individual, couple, or family counseling here are my hours:

Counseling location/hours        Professional Building, 4505 44th Ave. SW, West Seattle

Tuesdays: 5-8 p.m.                                   Wednesday: 8 a.m. – Noon                       Thursday: All day and evening                 Friday: Noon – 8 p.m.                              Saturday: 1st and 3rd Saturdays of month.

For more information or to make an appointment call Robert at 509-731-6012 or


Marriage Musings: Opposites Attract…and Then They Fight

Posted September 7th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot
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By Robert Fontana

relational 1relational 2Jane Venus and John Mars are have been married about seven years, have a couple of kids, and are beginning to wonder how they ever married in the first place.  THEY ARE SO DIFFERENT FROM EACH OTHER.  He’s shy; she’s outgoing.  He loves to read, play board games, do the daily crossword puzzle; she loves to bike, swim, and eat out.  They argue over how “she drives,” and he is such a “neat-nick,” and she “overcommits,” and he is such an “Eeyore,” and she is “too busy for sex,” and he “is never satisfied with the sex they do have,” and…  I get all this information from their intake forms.  The last question on the form asks, “When counseling has ended, what do you hope will have happened?”

Jane wrote: I want us to communicate better, and John to have a better attitude about life, and be more fun.

John wrote: I want Jane to pay attention to the details of our life, be less critical and more responsive sexually.

 In other words, they came to see me, each hoping that I could get the other to change, and, in fact, to be more like themselves!  The first thing I do with Jane Venus and John Mars is to ask them how they met, what attracted each to the other, and why they decided to marry.

Jane: We met at a bar.  I noticed him right away, shy, standing off in the corner, very nice-looking.  He would look at me and then turn away.  I knew there was no getting him to talk to me unless I acted first.  So when he walked by me to go to the bathroom I tripped him.  (John laughs and affirms that was true.)  I helped him up,    apologized, bought him a beer, and we talked into the night.  He was so interesting, so different from me: thoughtful, scholarly, and kind.

John: Never in my life did I think such a competent, outgoing, and beautiful woman would be interested in me.  We did things together that I would never have done on my own, like stay up all night on the Summer Solstice to watch the sunrise.

Jane: I married John because he grounded me.  I felt so safe and secure with him.  I loved him and wanted him to be the father of my kids.

John: I married Jane because she took me out of myself and into the world.  She is so alive and free.  I loved her companionship and could not see myself going through life without her.

Opposites attract… and then they fight.  All the traits that attracted Jane and John to one another when they first met and then led to their marriage – how different each was from the other – have now, seven years later, become the very reasons they are fighting – how different each is from the other.  This is common among couples; and it explains why many couples divorce after five to seven years of marriage. The gift of being “different from me” that each spouse brings to the relationship begins to wear thin.  In Jane’s case, John used to “ground” Jane; now Jane feels constrained by John.  In John’s case, Jane used to make John feel alive; now Jane’s free spirit causes John anxiety.

WHAT TO DO? According to the marriage researcher, John Gottman, about 70% of all conflicts in marriages have to do with personality and temperament differences between spouses.  In other words, they are unsolvable.  The issue is not the specific issue at hand, but how each spouse is simply very different from the other.  If couples do not recognize this, they will misinterpret the other’s behavior as being mean and hurtful.  They begin to think that love has left the marriage.  Not so.  Because there is no “right or wrong” solution to these conflicts, what is needed is “communication” and “accommodation.”

Jane still needs John to ground her, but lately it’s been too much.  She needs him to “lighten up a bit” and have fun with her (and the kids).  John still needs Jane to pull him out of himself, but he also needs Jane to be sensitive to his anxieties and his need for “down-time.”

running on beachSpouses who are very different from one another and who learn to communicate about and accommodate to each other’s differences come to an amazing insight: “I would rather be happy than right.”  They stop trying to change one another because they know that it is a useless effort.  The other will not, cannot change.  But in the successful marriage, each spouse can lovingly communicate hopes and needs, and willingly accommodate the other, giving her / his spouse the space to be himself / herself.



Counseling for Mental and Spiritual Health

Sometimes individuals and couples need help with a trained professional to succeed in love and family. Robert is a  licensed marriage and family therapist (associate) and is available for individual, couple, and family counseling.  The best time to call for help is  before it is a crisis.

Contact Information – Cell: 206-651-5058

Address: 4505 – 44th Ave SW, Seattle WA 98116






Marriage Musings:  Marriage Is Good for Sex

Posted June 20th, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot
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By Robert Fontana

From the Research:  Marriage is good for sex.  I know, it’s counter-intuitive.  Don’t all the jokes describe marriage as the end of great sex?

Charlie: I used to have a great sex life.  Mack: What happened?

Charlie: I got married.  Mack, do you know what kind of food kills romantic love?

Mack: No, what. Charlie: Wedding cake.

Mack: Hey, isn’t this your honeymoon?  What are you doing out here on the golf course?  Charlie: I gave my bride a choice between lovemaking and letting me play golf; here I am.

67265858_mlInterviewing hundreds of couples across that U.S., researchers determined what great sex is and who is having it.  Great sex is sexual intimacy that both partners consider to be frequent, enjoyable, creative, and meaningful.  Researchers compared the sexual behavior of three categories of couplings: married, co-habiting, and singles, including those who are divorced and widowed.  MARRIED COUPLES WERE THE BIG WINNERS!

engagedCouples who are married have almost as much sex (2 x’s a week) as their co-habiting counterparts (2 – 3 times a week), and way more than singles who have to work really hard and spend money to have a steady sexual partner.  Frequency is the only category in which married couples lag slightly behind.  Couples who are married are having far more enjoyable, creative, and meaningful sex.  These outcomes are attributed to one significant factor that differentiates married sex from other forms of sexual coupling: COMMITMENT.  Commitment is sexy.  When couples have made a commitment to one another as when they become engaged and/or get married, then sexual enjoyment, creativity, and meaning all skyrocket!  This should not be a surprise.

Married sex is more enjoyable because when two people feel safe, when each knows the other is not going to leave when things get tough, they are able to relax and fully enter into the sexual experience.  Married sex is more creative than other partnered sex because spouses get to practice over the years what feels good and enjoyable; and they are able to adjust as circumstances change.  And lastly, married sex is more meaningful because it means a couple’s wedding vows: “I will be true to you in good times and in bad…I will love you and honor you all the days of my life.” (Hard to beat that for “meaningfulness.”)

Married Sex and Faith –   Sadly, due to a variety of reasons, some people of faith have a hard time enjoying the sexual pleasure that is inherent in spousal physical intimacy.  A spouse may have been taught, as was my mother, that sexual pleasure is a sin.  Mom told me that her mother told her, “It is a sin for a woman to enjoy sex in marriage.”  I think I may have carried some of this bias into the raising of my children because at times I was not fully comfortable talking with them about sexuality.

Recently a woman attending a retreat for couples that Lori and I led confided to the group that she carries a lot of guilt for having sex with her husband.  It was drilled into her by her mother and the church of her childhood that sex outside of marriage was a terrible sin.  What she, as a young girl, had internalized is that “sex was a sin,” and she found it hard to be sexually responsive to her husband.  She had also internalized a very negative body image and thought that she was not very attractive, although, in truth, she is a very lovely woman.  Needless to say, she and her husband reported a very difficult struggle in the area of sexual intimacy.

What do the Scriptures and the Christian faith community teach about sexual pleasure?

Woman Stretching in Bed with a Man Sleeping Beside HerSEXUAL PLEASURE WITHIN MARRIAGE IS AWESOME!  ENJOY!

Okay, that is not a direct quote from Scripture or Church Tradition, but considering the materials available, listed below, I think it is an apt summary:

  • the Book of Genesis in which the writer describes God as being very pleased with his creation of man and woman who come together as “one flesh” and are commanded to “go and multiply” (Genesis 1:27-26, 2:2).
  • The Song of Songs (in the Catholic Bible but not the Protestant one), which is a poetic celebration of erotic love.
  • Paul’s admonition, “Do not deprive one another except for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer…” (1 Cor 7:5).
  • and good Pope Francis who writes: Sexuality is not a means of gratification or entertainment; it is an interpersonal language wherein the other is taken seriously, in his or her sacred and inviolable dignity…In this context, the erotic appears as a specifically human manifestation of sexuality…A healthy sexual desire, albeit closely joined to a pursuit of pleasure, always involves a sense of wonder…the erotic dimension of love…must be seen as a gift of God that enriches the relationship of the spouses… (The Joy of Love, art. 151-153).

Marriage Tip: Make sexual intimacy a priority in your marriage.  Talk about what sexual intimacy means for you as spouses (send me an email for a sexual intimacy inventory:

Read about sexual intimacy from authors who will respect your Christian perspective on human sexuality.  Secular magazines, like Cosmopolitan and GQ, seem to me to have very little understanding that great sex most often happens within the context of committed love.  Two authors that I like are Gregory Popcak ( and Shaunti Feldhahn (  Men and women often have different needs around sexual intimacy.  Understanding how these differences specifically apply to your marriage is important.

THREE VERY IMPORTANT ESSENTIALS TO A HEALTHY SEXUAL LIFE: A good night’s sleep, a healthy diet with moderate use of alcohol, and exercise!

Please post your comments!


Resources for Marriage

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If you live in the Seattle area and need some help with your marriage go to our counseling page:




Posted March 3rd, 2017 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot, View From the Pew

By Robert Fontana

couple2Jane and John Doe have been married for 12 years.  They have two children, and each has told me that he/she loves his/her spouse.  Yet they are caught in an endless cycle of swearing at one another and yelling variations of, “YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE.  IF YOU DID YOU WOULD……AND YOU WOULDN’T……”

Jane and John have developed such negative thoughts about each other that no matter what the other says or does, it is interpreted in a negative and suspicious way.  Each has told me, “I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”  Their marriage is holding together by a thread.

couple-withdrawingWhy did they wait for so long before they came in for help?  Imagine Jane bruising her arm badly in a fall; imagine John, cutting vegetables, getting a deep gash on his hand when the knife slipped.  Neither one goes to Urgent Care for medical care.  Then Jane and John get in an auto accident.  Jane breaks her leg, and John smashes his hand, which reopens the wound made by the knife cut; he begins to bleed profusely.  They still don’t go to ER for medical care.  THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN!  When we receive an injury to our bodies, we go to the doctor for help.

It seems, however, that when we receive an injury to our marriage, when we are hurting one another over and over again, we work hard to hide it from others, and we often deny it to ourselves.  There is a social stigma about relationship and mental health challenges.  Because these health issues are often seen as shameful, embarrassing, and humiliating, we might not seek help early on, which could keep the problem at a manageable level, reasonably simple to solve.  Jane and John Doe waited until their relationship was crushed by mutual hurt and pain.  The couple was staring at an ugly and brutal divorce as they called me, hoping I could work some magic to get them back on the right track.  Can their marriage be saved?  Yes.  Will they give counseling the time, the hard work, and the patience needed to improve their relationship?  I don’t know.

hidden treasure book coverLent for couples; work on your marriage.  March 1st begins the 40 days of Lent, an ancient season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to help each of us break with sin and selfishness.  If you are married, I urge you to use Lent as a time to draw closer to one another in Christ.  If your marriage is going well, strengthen it by trying just one of these suggestions: pray together just a little more; read a faith-based book together; serve the poor together; make a retreat together; buy a copy of Hidden Treasure and do the exercises, intended to strengthen love and friendship (Hidden Treasure, a workbook to help you discover the amazing gift of your marriage, available at or

If you are dissatisfied with some aspects of your marriage or think that you and your spouse do not communicate as well as you should, try a retreat like Marriage Encounter (, or Retrouvaille ( or call a marriage counselor for help.  Get help now to work through issues of miscommunication, hurt, and resentment while you and your spouse still like each other and are still friends.  If you wait to get help as a last ditch effort to avoid divorce court, it just may be too late.  At that point, you have one foot out the door and may not have the motivation to do the hard work of rebuilding your marriage.

couple holding handsPray for Jane and John Doe.  They are teetering on the edge.  With hard work, and the help of God, and the guidance of a competent therapist, I am confident that they can again become for each other a primary source of joy and happiness and minimize their being a source of frustration and unhappiness for each other.  Certainly not all marriages can or should be saved.  But I have read hundreds of case studies and books on marriage and relationship success.  I have not heard of one case in which a couple who has succeeded in working through their difficulties, regrets the hard work of setting their marriage on the right path.

Lent is here.  If you are married, consider drawing on the graces of this season to value and work on your marriage.  Pray daily for your spouse; pray daily for strong, grace-filled marriages, which form the building block of society and of the reign of God!

Marriage Musings:  MY SPOUSE IS DRIVING ME #*&#%#%!!!!

Posted December 12th, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot

By Robert Fontana

couple-withdrawingTrue stories!  Names and circumstances have been changed:

Jay and Sandra, 30 years of marriage; four children.

Sandra:  I’m married to the quiet man.  We are both going to retire soon, and I will have to spend my time with HIM!  Oh he’s a good father, makes a nice salary, but rarely says a word!  And when he does talk, it’s to “suggest improvements” with meals, parenting improvements, or whatever!

Jay:  I’m not sure why we’re here.  I don’t criticize my wife.  What she takes as criticism are suggestions just to make things better.  She’s very emotional; I’m very rational.  I don’t understand why she is so unhappy, but she takes it out on me by not wanting to have sex.


Max and Esmerelda, living together for 8 months; wedding in four months; she’s pregnant.

Esmerelda: He disappears at the hint of conflict!  WE HAVE A BABY COMING!  This was not in the plan, but I’m getting used to it.  When I told him that I was pregnant, he didn’t say a word.  He just turned around and left!

Max:  I needed time to think. I could not think with you yelling at me about getting a better job and moving to a bigger apartment.  You are just like your father.  He yelled at you; you yell at me.

Can these relationships survive?  ABSOLUTELY!

couple-in-counseling-unhappyFrom the research:  Couples like these above have contacted me, a therapist-in-training in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), an evidenced-based approach to couple counseling that is extremely effective.  Here’s the process:

  1. Name the real culprit undermining the relationship! Stop blaming one another for all the unhappiness in the relationship.  “He’s not the problem,” and “She’s not the problem.”  The problem is the negative dynamic the two of them have created that undermines love.  One spouse’s negative words and/or actions feed the negative words and/or actions of the other spouse and vice-versa creating this “demon dynamic” that is hurtful and leads to bitterness and emotional distance.
  1. Call “time-out!” “You created this demon dynamic, and you can un-create it.”  Once couples have learned to recognize the “demon dynamic,” they can learn how to stop it when tensions are escalating by calling “time-out!”  “Time-out” gives couples space to replace the “demon dynamic” with a healthy marital dynamic, something they learn to do in counseling.
  1. Replace the “demon dynamic” with an “agape dynamic.” Agape is a Greek word that describes doing what is best for another person. In regard to couples in conflict, it means helping couples to replace the “demon dynamic” of hurt and counter-hurt with words and behaviors that restore love.  I especially help couples to listen to and understand the emotions behind a spouse’s comments.  EMOTIONS DRIVE BEHAVIOR, even for adults who say they are not emotional.
  1. Emotional engagement. I especially help couples to pay attention to each one’s own emotional life, particularly the deeper emotions that lie behind anger, rage, and bitterness.  These are the difficult feelings of shame, guilt, loneliness, hurt, sadness, isolation, and rejection that surface when a spouse does not feel safe, loved, accepted, affirmed, and cared for in a relationship.   When a spouse can name these feelings and the other spouse can listen with understanding, then positive engagement happens.

Marriage and Faith:  Speaking kindly to loved ones during difficult times has been a challenge since the time of Adam and Eve.  Here’s wisdom from the Epistle to the Ephesians:

 Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devilNo foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

Woman Looking at a Man Sitting Beside HerMarriage Tip:   When you are not feeling well, you go to the doctor who checks your pulse and blood pressure, indicators of your physical health.  Couples ought to do an annual check of the “pulse and pressure” of their marriage through a relationship assessment (go to; click on “Marriage Assessment” in the left hand column).

Be as honest as possible in doing the assessment.  If your assessment results are great, keep doing what you are doing.  Be intentional about continuing the good things that are helping your marriage work.

If from your assessment you discover that your marriage needs some work, decide now to do something positive to strengthen the areas that need work:  read a book together, e.g. The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman or His Needs/Her Needs by Willard Harley; watch relationship videos e.g. Hidden Keyes to Loving Relationships Gary Smalley; attend a marriage workshop sponsored by a nearby church or therapy group (look for The Marriage Tune-up in late January, sponsored by yours truly); and/or attend a retreat e.g. Marriage Encounter.

And if there are deep hurts in the marriage, and/or your relationship is spiraling out of control, DO NOT DESPAIR!  There is help.  Marriage counseling is effective with a well-trained counselor.  I recommend a counselor trained in Emotionally Focused Therapy.  Find one near you by going on-line to

 THIS IS IMPORTANT:  DO NOT LET INSURANCE RESTRICTIONS OR THE COST OF MARRIAGE WORKSHOPS, RETREATS, AND/OR COUNSELING DRIVE YOUR DECISION TO GET HELP.  You spend money on sports events, vacations, hunting trips, new cars, and dinner out.  Find the therapist that is best for you even if he or she is not on your insurance plan.  The therapist can give you a receipt that you can submit for reimbursement.  And truly, the cost is worth the outcome – a successful marriage!

Please post your comments.


Marriage Musing:  Sustaining Marital Friendship

Posted September 23rd, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot

By Robert Fontana

rob and lori4“I married my best friend!”  So many couples say this with delight on their wedding day.  I know I did.  And, as true as that is, sustaining that friendship over a lifetime together can be ah…well…challenging.  Marital friendship is not like other friendships.  There is something unique about this friendship.  You are sexual partners, parent partners, business partners, sick-care partners, homeowner partners, recreational partners, and sleeping partners (which is not the same as a sexual partner – “Yes, go ahead and put your cold feet on my warm legs.”).  Marital friendship means two whole lives sewn together in very concrete ways, with all the potential for deep intimacy and deep conflict.  How does one sustain marital friendship over the years?

 Marriage Research

If couples want to remain friends, there is no substitute for simply spending time together.  90% of marriage is showing up.  One couple that came to me for counseling noticed a very positive change in their relationship which stemmed not from anything done in our sessions, but from following one directive from me – “Spend one hour of uninterrupted time together each day, free from computers, cell phones, children, and whatever!”  They worked at it, couldn’t do it every day, but did it most days and discovered how much they miss time together.  They rediscovered how much they enjoyed one another’s company.

3487999_mlOf course, simply showing up is not enough.  What do you do when you are together?  Research shows that, in addition to showing up, those couples that remain friends are couples who “emotionally engage.”  Couples with strong marital friendship have emotional intelligence. They feed off one another’s positive energy – joy, fun excitement, satisfaction, etc. (positive emotions) – and try to act towards the other in a way that keeps the positive energy going.  How so?  By being kind to one another, doing small acts of service for each other, and taking the time to talk about each other’s day.

Researcher John Gottman writes that having “emotional intelligence” during conflict is a married couple’s “secret weapon” for remaining friends; it enables them to keep conflicts and problems from getting out of hand.  It’s called “repair attempt.”  Couples with emotional intelligence, who are friends and want to remain friends, are alert for tension in the relationship and become “experts at sending each other repair attempts and at correctly reading those sent their way.”  This is any sort of statement or action, however serious or ridiculous, that tries to prevent negativity from escalating.

Marriage Tip:   A friend once told me that when he decided he would rather be “happy than right,” it was easy to quickly repair hurt feelings with his wife.  So many spouses want to win the argument, and, in the process, they verbally beat down their spouses (and their marriage).  Surely some issues are too important to simply let go of for the sake of peace, but most are not.

Faith and Marriage: 

Here is a Scripture passage that has guided how Lori and I attempt repairs in our relationship following conflict:

“So then, putting away all falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.  Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…”  Ephesians 4:25-26.

Pope Francis puts it this way:  “My advice is never to let the day end without making peace in the family.  ‘And how am I going to make peace? By getting down on my knees? No, just by a small gesture, a little something, and harmony within your family will be restored.  Just a little caress, no words are necessary.  But do not let the day end without making peace in your family.”  The Joy of Love, art. 104


Elvis Impersonators and Sacramental Marriage

Posted February 14th, 2016 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot

By Robert Fontana

elvis impersonatorMany people in secular America see marriage as their own private affair, and they use marriage to accomplish their self-interest goals rather than allowing marriage to shape their goals and life direction, whether that be making money, getting elected, being popular, or simply for convenience.  Catholics view marriage, even in its secular form before a justice of the peace or an Elvis impersonator, as coming from God.  For us, a valid marriage has three components: it is freely entered, lifelong, and open to welcoming children.

A Sacramental marriage is a valid marriage between spouses who wish to join their lives together with the Church’s mission to proclaim the love of God in Jesus to the world.

A Sacramental marriage is a vocation, a call from God. Through their love for one another and their children (should they have children), husband and wife reflect the sacrificial love of Jesus for all of humanity.

In deciding to have a Sacramental marriage, you are saying, “We want God to be at the center of our love and to use our love as a power for good in the world.”

Black familyYour marriage is not just for you and your children. It is part of God’s plan to give you a strong foundation from which to go into the world of your daily life and be a power for good.

You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.   Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:13-16)

Should you decide to have a Catholic wedding, your marriage will be a sacrament of the Church.  That means your marriage will be a living, breathing community of faith, hope, and love united to your parish church. God will use your marriage to build strong individuals, families, neighborhoods, schools — the building blocks for a good and just society. Your marriage will create a “domestic Church” in which faith in Jesus is learned, lived, shared, and celebrated.  From your marriage:

  • your children should meet Christ;
  • the poor should meet Christ;
  • your neighbors should meet Christ;
  • your colleagues at work should meet Christ;
  • and you and your spouse should meet Christ.

DSCF0055Marriages with Jesus at the center are sacrificial marriages. Communication skills are necessary, and shared values and goals are important, but a couple who wants to have a long and happy future together, a future until “death do us part,” must learn to sacrifice for the good of the marriage. Sacrifice looks different for different couples. It essentially involves two things:

Saying “No!” to any person, place, thing, future plans, or past regrets that get in the way of the relationship (very often this means “No” to positive and good things like work, hobbies, or watching television); and saying “Yes!” to whatever maintains and enhances your love and friendship.

You can have a valid marriage without having a Catholic or sacramental one.  The discernment question that Engaging the Engaged will help you answer is: do you want a Sacramental marriage?



Engaging the Engaged: Preparing Couples for a Lifetime of Success in a Sacramental Marriage

Posted May 15th, 2015 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot

By Robert Fontana

Christian marriage preparation in the Pacific Northwest poses a unique challenge.  The vast majority of couples that I encounter in my work grew up Catholic but are no longer practicing.  They tend to be part of the “spiritual but not religious crowd.”  Some want a wedding in the church because they believe in God and want God to bless their marriage, but they are not sure if they want the Church.  Others do it to please their parents who may be paying for the wedding, and they also believe in God.  Still others may marry in a church for a nice photo opportunity in a beautiful wedding space.  I try to meet couples exactly where they are without judgment, but here’s my challenge: to prepare engaged couples for a lifetime of success in a sacramental marriage.  To do this I have to “engage the engaged” in the meaning and implications of a Sacramental marriage while strengthening their knowledge of one another and introducing them to effective skills in listening, communicating and problem-solving. 

When a couple comes to the parish church for marriage preparation they need to experience how a Sacramental marriage builds on but is uniquely different from a valid civil marriage.  Remember, in the Catholic marriage rite, it is the couple who are the ministers of the Sacrament, not the priest.  What they intend is important.  By choosing a Sacramental marriage, an engaged couple is making a conscious choice to join their love to what God is doing in the world through the life and ministry of the community of faith, the Church.  The priest witnesses and blesses this choice, but the Sacrament happens through the actions of the couple standing before and with the community of faith.

I’ve developed a marriage preparation program that I call Engaging the Engaged, which I have used at two parishes in Seattle.  It involves mentor couples, six evenings of classes (6-9 p.m.), a blessing of the engagement at Mass, and a renewal of Baptism after the final session.  Process is just as important as content.  At each class I hope to help the engaged couples do the following:


  • grow in their relationship with God, and their understanding of a Sacramental marriage;
  • reflect deeply on and share about a particular area of married life; and
  • practice specific skills in assessing their relationship, listening for understanding, communicating clearly, and problem-solving in a way that protects the unity in the relationship.

Each evening class involves a healthy mixture of prayer, catechesis, small-group sharing, relationship assessments and couple time, and practice of skill development.

The first three evenings focus on discerning a sacramental marriage and the last three on preparing for a sacramental marriage. Young people do not need to marry in the Church to have a valid marriage.  As long as they intend what the church intends for marriage – a lifelong covenant, freely entered and open to children – and they meet the civil requirements, their marriage is valid.

In Engaging the Engaged, I want couples to fully understand the expectations and demands of a Sacramental marriage.  One way of doing this is having the engaged couples meet with different mentor couples, one couple at a time, who simply share with them their story of being married in the Church.  It is critical that the engaged couple understands that a Sacramental marriage is not fundamentally about conforming their relationship to certain rules and regulations.  A Sacramental marriage is about joining their relationship to a deeply personal relationship with God through a community of faith.  If couples decide that this is what they want to do, then they have their engagement blessed at Sunday Mass.

The engaged couple can now progress to the second half of Engaging the Engaged.  The key principle during these classes is this:  allow your marriage vows – fidelity, love, and honor – to shape your life together.  In secular America so many people use marriage to achieve their own narcissistic goals of power, position, possessions, and pleasure.  But when we allow marriage to shape us, when fidelity, love, and honor discipline our desires and guide our decisions, something amazing happens.  We encounter God most profoundly in one another and become a sign of God’s love for others.

  • From your marriage your children should meet Christ;
  • from your marriage the poor should meet Christ;
  • from your marriage your neighbors should meet Christ;
  • from your marriage your colleagues at work should meet Christ;
  • and from your marriage you and your spouse should meet Christ. (Engaging the Engaged, Session 6)


You can read some of the evaluation comments by the most recent participants below.  For information on how you can do Engaging the Engaged at your parish church contact Robert at 509-731-6012 or email him at

 “Some things that I really liked about Engaging the Engaged…

  •  It made us reflect on ourselves and each other and sparked discussions on different aspects of our lives.
  • The format is great. I feel the 3-hour sessions [once a week] are better than a full weekend retreat because we have ample time to reflect.
  • Learning about different ways my fiancé and I can work together.
  • The topics covered; practical application to living with another person (outside of religious context and within a religious context).
  • The worksheets and reflections asked insightful questions and made me reflect.
  • It forced us to communicate about all things that affect our relationship and how to work on those things to strengthen our relationship and love.
  • Very interactive; Robert does a great job.
  • It is eye-opening. Lectures were very easy to grasp, and it helps us a lot to make our relationship become much better. We learned techniques in listening and communicating that we did not know.
  • The community spirit and the open forum to which you can express your life.
  • I learned more about marriage in general, how it works through faith.
  • I really liked how we incorporated our faith into our relationship and how important it is.

A Relationship Assessment–In Time for St. Valentine’s Day

Posted February 8th, 2015 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot, Uncategorized

Happy Valentine’s Day! Is your marriage successful?  Or, if you are not married but in a serious relationship with another person, is it successful?  Note that I did not write “is it perfect?”  There are no perfect marriages, no perfect relationships, but there are successful ones.  The 12 areas of a successful marriage summarized below are taken from Why Marriage Matters by University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite.  Take this quick relationship assessment for a snapshot on the state of your marriage. It works for dating couples as well.  Complete it separately, then compare your answers.

Indicate your level of agreement with the following statements with a 1=Never, 3=often, and 5=always.

1.  We work effectively as a team.        1      2      3      4      5

2.  My spouse accepts me for who I am, and  affirms my gifts and talents.    1      2      3      4      5

3.  Our marriage has helped me to mature as a person;  it brings out the best in me (most of the time).     1      2      3      4      5

4.  We agree on our approach to money; how we are to save, spend, and give a portion of it to charity. 1      2      3      4       5

5.  We live a healthy balance of work, leisure,  exercise, and sleep.  1      2      3      4      5

6.  Our marriage gives me a firm foundation to be able to  to succeed at work.1     2     3     4      5

7.  My spouse takes good care of me when I am sick.   1      2      3      4      5

8.  We agree on our approach to faith and  and spiritual growth.  1      2      3      4      5

9.  We work hard at being good neighbors and  active citizens.    1      2      3      4      5

10. We are best friends and regularly make  time to have fun together.   1      2      3      4      5

11. We are very good at dealing with conflict.   1      2      3      4        5

12. I am very satisfied with our romantic, sensual life!   1      2      3      4      5

Many couples run their marriages on cruise control.  They’re like the airline pilot who announces good news and bad news.  The good news is we’re making excellent time at a great speed.  The bad news is we don’t know where we are going.  Find out “where your marriage is going” by taking a more comprehensive relationship assessment.  You can find it at Look at the column on left for Marriage Assessment.  Click it and follow the directions.


You can do a marriage workshop at home by purchasing our book Hidden Treasure, a workbook for couples to help them discover the amazing gift of their marriage.  Hidden Treasure will guide you through a series of conversations related to critical issues of married love: interpersonal needs, sexual intimacy, friendship, children, faith, money, future plans, forgiveness, and effective communication. Do one chapter a week, and you can spend the next 13 weeks deepening love and intimacy in your marriage!  Hidden Treasure  can be purchased at or Barnes and Noble.

The Third Foundational Key to Marriage Success: Women Swish; Men Bounce.

Posted September 26th, 2014 by CLMrf and filed in Marriage Jackpot

By Robert Fontana

Why do most women “swish” when they walk? A woman’s pelvic and hip bones are made to carry a baby and move from side to side to give the baby the most comfortable ride possible.  When I, Robert, was inHaiti andSouth Africa teaching relationship skills, I could not help but notice the many women carrying large bundles on their heads, something men rarely did. 

Men bounce when they walk and run.  We can carry heavy loads on our backs, but not on our heads.  A woman’s center of gravity is different from a man’s because of her different bone structure involving her hips.  This is only one of a woman’s many physical characteristics designed to conceive, carry, birth, and feed a child.  Thus, when she walks or runs, that baby she carries has a nice smooth ride.  If we men carried babies in our bellies they would be bounced up and down and sideways, screaming at the top of their developing lungs, “Mom, get me outta here, Dad’s trying to kill me!”

A woman needs a man to conceive a child, and the child needs a marriage of faith, hope, and love to help him or her grow to become a thriving adult.  Sex is not intended just for the giving and receiving of love between spouses, but also for the conception and birthing of children within a covenant of love. In fact, being able to bring a new person into life is one of the ways that we humans become co-creators with God.  It is an awesome, beautiful mystery that a baby is conceived by the joining of a male sperm, with DNA from the father, and a female egg, with DNA from the mother.  And this fertilized egg, now a human life, attaches itself to the uterine wall of the mother and grows.

By week five the baby’s brain, spinal cord, and heart begin to develop, and legs start to grow.  At six to seven weeks, baby’s heart is beating regularly; at 14 weeks the face is fully formed and genitalia start to develop. By 19 weeks the baby can hear, swallow, and move around enough for Mom to notice.  All parts of the eyes are developed at 26 weeks, and the baby will react to loud noises.  The brain begins to grow rapidly around week 27, and by week 37, the development of the heart and blood vessels, bones and muscle tissue is complete.  By week 38 the baby is ready to be born; the birth process could be triggered any day. And all of this happened because two persons joined their DNA through the intimate encounter of a male sperm and a female egg through sexual intercourse.[i]

The third foundational key to a successful marriage is found in the third question asked couples during the marriage rite:

Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and his Church?[ii]

Not all couples can conceive and birth a child, but this question is about one’s intentions not one’s physical abilities (certainly, if you are not able to have children, you can still have a great marriage). When Lori and I married, we answered this question with a resounding “yes,” but thought babies were three, four, five years off.

We thought that I would be finished with graduate school before we started having children, but that was not to be.  Baby One came just two months after I graduated from college; graduate school was put on hold.  We thought nothing of it.  Welcoming that child into our home and providing for his care took center stage, BUT I was totally unprepared for it!  I did not have a clue about what caring for children entailed because, being the sixth of seven boys, I never had to baby-sit.  I had never changed a diaper, held an inconsolable infant who wanted  Mom, or awakened  for a middle-of-the-night feeding.

I was on a steep learning curve.  Yes, we did the natural birthing classes;, and I learned to be my wife’s coach; and we prepared a room in our small apartment for the baby; and Lori gave birth to a fine, strapping boy with the help of a midwife; and we returned to our home, miles away from either grandmother, with our precious child.  Now what?  My goodness, we had to learn to be parents without a trial run.  May our oldest children forgive us for practicing on them! (They taught us to be much better parents for their three younger siblings.)

Our Story, From Lori  There are so many joys and wonders in raising children: the nursing baby and mom in perfect contentment; baby’s first step, word, and tooth; siblings helping their baby sibling to speak – Clare to Mary:  “I’m a dirl and you’re  a dirl; Daddy’s a boy;”  — teaching children to read, throw a ball, help with chores; watching Disney movies together and learning all the songs; playing with cousins; doting grandparents; birthday parties; the first day at school; family meals and games; vacations to see family; teaching the children to pray and “participate” in Mass; first signs of teenage-hood, talks on relationships and sexuality; high school sports, drama, art, music, and friends; moving across the country; painting the house; debating room arrangements; serving at a soup kitchen; backyard volleyball and croquet;, s’mores and camp with other families; and singing around the fire-pit.

And in between all those wondrous moments there were the difficult times: caring for a sick child, arguing over who can do what and when, what movie to watch, who gets the bathroom chore this week, who gets to sit in the front seat of the car, what sports can they do this season, refereeing fights, figuring how to pay for music lessons, clothes, a used bike, trips to the county fair, and shirts for the baseball team; and “no you can’t go to so-and-so’s house unless a parent is there,” and “yes, you have to go to Mass as long as you’re living in this house.”

Children do not ask to be born, and are not given the option of choosing their parents or siblings.  One of the great challenges that couples face is giving their children a healthy and successful family.  I write “healthy and successful,” and not “perfect” because perfect families do not exist, but healthy and successful ones do.

Some of the greatest tension we felt during the years of raising our children was between what we insisted they participate in as members of our family – daily supper, chores, prayer time, fun-time, trips and events with extended family – and the demands placed on them by outside commitments and friends.

Not everyone comes from a happy childhood, but everyone can break from the unhealthy patterns of their childhood to create a new family where love, forgiveness, friendship, teamwork, and joy abound.  We do not have a perfect family, but we do have a successful one.  A couple of years ago, one of my daughters sent me a Father’s Day card, and in it she wrote:

“Besides marrying mom, what I am most grateful for are the siblings you (and she) gave me.”

Children are a great gift, but they are work.  And the greatest gift you will ever give to your children is not music, voice, dance lessons, a college degree, or even an inheritance into a life of comfort and ease. It is your “healthy and successful” marriage.


What has been the impact of having children, either biological, blended, or adopted, on your marriage?  What if you were not able to have children and chose not to adopt? Buy our book Hidden Treasure at or, turn to pages 32-34 and complete the “Children Inventory” that applies to you.



[i] See

[ii] Having children is not an absolute condition for a valid marriage.  Age, an inability to conceive a child, and other health related issues may occasion exceptions to this question.